Ascensus, an independent retirement and college savings service put up for sale by private investment firm J.C. Flowers & Co. back in May, is at last reaching the end of its bidding war, with a new owner in sight. But who will that owner be, and what exactly will they be getting with this deal?
Many big name companies are in the running, including Manulife, ADP LLC, SS&C Technologies, and Paychex Inc. Genstar and Aquiline Capital Partners teamed up for their bid.
J. C. Flowers & Co. tapped Deutsche Bank to assist with the sale, and even though lead banker Jason Guardiano has left Deutche, the bank is still advising Flowers and seeing the deal through to its completion, which is likely to be sometime this month.
In fact, Flowers has looked for a buyer for Ascensus before. Back in 2012, when Ascensus was much smaller (producing $25 million to $35 million in EBITDA), it was expected to go for $300 million. There were talks with a PE firm, but the firm pulled out of the deal at the last moment.
That turn of events might have been just as well, though. Ascensus, which is based in Dresher, Pennsylvania, subsequently bought ExpertPlan, a provider of micro and small plan record keeping and administrative services; and Upromise Investments, part of Sallie Mae’s 529 college savings plan. With these purchases, Ascensus’s income skyrocketed to $80 million in EBITDA, making it a much more interesting potential acquisition—particularly after it paid out a $100 million dividend to its shareholders in January of this year.
Moody’s Investors Service Inc. reported that Ascensus currently has an annual revenue of more than $280 million, which includes “highly recurring revenue with longstanding relationships” with financial institution partners in a growing market. “Management has shown a solid track record of executing and meeting their financial targets in the past,” Moody’s continued.
The winning bidder remains to be announced, but this much is certain: they’ll be acquiring an industry heavy hitter.